IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Women's and Men's Career Referents: How Gender Composition and Comparison Level Shape Career Expectations


  • Donald E. Gibson

    () (Charles F. Dolan School of Business, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut 06824)

  • Barbara S. Lawrence

    () (Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095)


This study examines how women's and men's career referents---the people they see as having similar careers---affect career expectations. We raise two questions. First, what is the relative effect of the gender composition and comparison level of career referents on such expectations? Second, what happens to career expectations when women and men identify career referents at the same comparison level? Current research suggests that women have lower career expectations than men because they compare themselves with women who hold lower-level positions than the career referents identified by men. Thus, if women and men identify with career referents at a similar level, their career expectations should be equal. However, this chain of reasoning has not been tested. Using data collected from a large organization, we identify both the specific individuals that women and men perceive as having similar careers and these referents' career levels, defined as their hierarchical level in the firm. The results show that the level of career referents is more important than their gender composition in explaining individuals' career expectations. In contrast to extant explanations, the results show that even when women identify career referents at the same levels as men do, they still exhibit significantly lower career expectations. Drawing on social comparison theory, we speculate that this occurs because men's expectations are bolstered by extreme upward comparisons, whereas women's expectations are dampened, perhaps because they see high-achieving others as representing a less probable goal.

Suggested Citation

  • Donald E. Gibson & Barbara S. Lawrence, 2010. "Women's and Men's Career Referents: How Gender Composition and Comparison Level Shape Career Expectations," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(6), pages 1159-1175, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:21:y:2010:i:6:p:1159-1175

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barbara S. Lawrence, 2006. "Organizational Reference Groups: A Missing Perspective on Social Context," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(1), pages 80-100, February.
    2. Donald E. Gibson, 2003. "Developing the Professional Self-Concept: Role Model Construals in Early, Middle, and Late Career Stages," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 14(5), pages 591-610, October.
    3. Oldham, Greg R. & Kulik, Carol T. & Ambrose, Maureen L. & Stepina, Lee P. & Brand, Julianne F., 1986. "Relations between job facet comparisons and employee reactions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 28-47, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Kremena Slavova & Andrea Fosfuri & Julio O. De Castro, 2016. "Learning by Hiring: The Effects of Scientists’ Inbound Mobility on Research Performance in Academia," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 72-89, February.
    2. repec:kap:sbusec:v:49:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11187-017-9854-x is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Adam M. Kleinbaum & Toby E. Stuart & Michael L. Tushman, 2013. "Discretion Within Constraint: Homophily and Structure in a Formal Organization," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 24(5), pages 1316-1336, October.
    4. Aleksandra J. Kacperczyk, 2013. "Social Influence and Entrepreneurship: The Effect of University Peers on Entrepreneurial Entry," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 24(3), pages 664-683, June.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:21:y:2010:i:6:p:1159-1175. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mirko Janc) The email address of this maintainer does not seem to be valid anymore. Please ask Mirko Janc to update the entry or send us the correct email address. General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.